Originally Published: August 1, 2016 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Juvenile inmates stay busy during their incarceration with activities such as basketball and volleyball in an on-site gym. Now they’ve learned a new game – pickleball.
“It’s a very interesting game and it involves focusing and thinking about strategies,” said a 16-year-old girl, whose name is being withheld, along with all the inmates’ identities.
“It’s a fun game that you can get your anger out by slamming the ball with the paddle,” another said jokingly.
Boys and girls, ages 15-17, incarcerated at the Yavapai County Juvenile Detention Center, participated in four clinics in the past few weeks taught by four members of the pickleball club at Willow Hills Baptist Church. Led by pickleball player and national racquetball champion Jerry Northwood of Prescott, the clinics taught the children the game’s rules and strategies and allowed them to try it out in double’s play. Northwood also emphasized the importance of warming up muscles and playing safely.
“It’s not how hard you hit the ball; you let the other team make mistakes,” Northwood told the youngsters in separate clinics for boys and girls in the center’s gym and guarded at all times by detention officers. “In doubles, it’s important also that you call out who’s hitting the ball – ‘me!’ or ‘you!’ You’re going to make fewer mistakes.” Doubles is a team of either two males, two females or mixed, a team of one male and one female.
Pickleball is played on a smaller tennis court and net, using paddles similar to ping pong paddles and plastic Wiffle balls. The game was invented in 1965 by two families in Washington looking for a new outdoor activity. Today, the sport is said to be the fastest-growing sport in the United States, has a national association and many local associations. Local players recently formed the Prescott association.
Clinic team member Ben Sialega, one of eight Prescott-area ambassadors for the United States American Pickleball Association, also explained strategies. Members J.T. Schulze and Malia Pomeé completed the team.
“Don’t ever hit the ball to their strong swing side,” Sialega told the boys and girls. He said a good player is constantly analyzing who is the weaker player of the opposing doubles team and hits to that person. He and Schulze, a local pastor, demonstrated “dinking” play, hitting the ball softly over the net. To avoid the other team hitting the ball in an open, unguarded area of the court, doubles partners often shadow each other’s play during dinking.
“Your partner stays with you,” Schulze said during the dinking demo. “You have to talk to each other.”
Other kids said the game was a lot of fun.
“Pickleball is an easy game to learn,” said a 16-year-old boy at the clinic who has played tennis for a year and a half in high school. “It’s better than tennis, in my opinion. It’s not as fast-paced and the court is smaller, so it’s more enjoyable. It’s simple and the rules are not as complicated as in tennis. It’s easy to learn.”
The boy said he appreciates members of the community coming in to the center to teach the youngsters, such as Bible studies and yoga classes. He also hopes to try pickleball when he gets out of detention.
“It’s worth the time; it’s lots of fun,” he said.
Detention officers watching the clinics said the game is good for the kids.
“It’s a great activity to bring to the center; it’s a new experience for (the kids),” said Officer Raquel Corona.
“It teaches them to think about others, their teammates, and helps in building relationships,” an important attitude for incarcerated people, she said.
Officer Wayne Battram also appreciated the team aspect of pickleball. “It’s a team game, and gets these guys interacting,” he said. “It gets them playing.”
Center Director Scott Mabery agreed. “Pickleball is a great activity for the kids because it teaches teamwork and is a great form of exercise. It has also opened these kids up to a new activity that none of them have experienced. Having community members volunteer with these kids is vitally important because it shows these kids that they are part of this community and that people do care for them.
“Many of these kids don’t have positive mentors or relationships and this program has provided another avenue for these kids to build relationships through a positive activity.”
Mabery said having the pickleball team conduct their clinics affected the entire center. “It truly has brought a new ray of hope and life to our facility and our kids.”
Northwood came up with the idea to do clinics for the youngsters after hearing a presentation at a Prescott City Council meeting by Gay Lockling, deputy director at the detention center. Because the church club sees pickleball as an outreach to the community, and after hearing Lockling’s presentation, he immediately began to form the idea to take the game to the juveniles. Northwood also teaches racquetball to veterans through the Wounded Warrior program.
“It’s was a God thing,” Northwood said of meeting up with Lockling, who began the ball rolling to get approval to teach the clinics to the kids.
The Prescott Pickleball Association (PPA) is partnering with the City of Prescott to raise money to build public pickleball courts. About 1,000 people in the Prescott area play the sport at several locations, including the YMCA and Willow Hills Baptist Church, both of which are open to the public.
PPA’s plan is to raise the money for public courts at Pioneer Park by mid-2017. Local ambassadors for the United States American Pickelball Association provide training for children, veterans, and people of all ages.
For more information about the church club, call Bob Atherton at 928-499-2498. For more information about the new Prescott Pickleball Association, call President Peg Travers at 978-478-7234 or visit their website at prescottpickleball.com.